Half a league half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred:
'Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns' he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
A number of you wrote, wondering why I haven’t said anything about the tragic deaths of US Navy special forces who were killed during a rescue mission a week ago Saturday in Afghanistan.
The short answer is: I really try not to write when I’m pissed off.
I’m not always successful, and then later I sometimes have cause to regret saying certain things in certain blog posts.
I’ve started this post several times in the last few days, only to delete it. The subject matter saddens me, but that is not what is getting on my nerves.
No, what is pissing me off are some of the letters I’ve gotten and many of the comments I’ve read in the popular press.
'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismay'd ?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
I have replied to a number of you, and I hope that my responses weren’t too abrupt.
Understand, I have no problem with those who messaged with reasonable questions about military operations and I don’t mind answering as best I’m able.
I certainly understand that many folks, hell even those with actually military experience, would have questions and comments when such a tragedy occurs.
And I understand why you might ask me.
As most of you probably know, I spent my entire life in the military. In the US Navy to be specific. I can’t discuss much of my career or most of the operations I was involved in, due to the nature of my specialty. I wasn’t a SEAL. However, I was occasionally privileged to be involved in a few of their operations and rode along on a couple missions in a support role. I likely know a bit more about them than the average person, but I’m certainly no expert on the intimate details of SEAL teams.
The only real experts on SEAL operations are the SEALs themselves.
Anybody who tells you different is full of shit.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd & thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.
I am, however, a qualified expert on war fighting doctrine, tactics, planning, and military intelligence.
I am a certified expert in various forms of weaponry and certain special operations.
I know a fair bit about helicopters too, having been a qualified Navy Surface Warfare Officer and having had the deck of a cruiser during more than one flight operation.
But I also know where the limits of my knowledge are, something that seems to be lacking in more than a few folks.
What pissed me off about the death of seventeen members of SEAL Team 6 and three of their support team, not to mention the Afghan special operations soldiers who were onboard along with the US Army flight crew, are the astounding number of people – news media talking heads, the usual pundits and politicians, and the average mouth breather on the street – who suddenly consider themselves experts on special forces, combat operations, military equipment, the Afghan terrain, and what should or should not have been done last Saturday.
The most common criticism seems to be summed up by the following comment (as usual, posted under a Yahoo news article):
The commanding officer should never had put those Seals in that aircraft. It was bad military tactics.
Technically, it was arguably bad logistics, not tactics – but I’ll try not to slap at the nits when there are larger targets. Bad tactics? The commenter doesn’t bother to explain how he had access to the commander’s situational awareness or the classified details of the mission that would allow him to make such a post-incident assessment. Details such as the real-time tactical situation on the ground, the latest threat assessment and intelligence, the availability (or lack thereof) of transport and its capability and equipment, the time sensitive nature of the mission, the number and make-up of mission personnel and their equipment load-out, the experience of the flight crew, the number of expected injured that might have to be lifted out, and about a thousand other things – all of which would have had to been assessed in seconds and decided on the fly.
Whose tactical brilliance put so many of our elite in one vehicle?
Why 30 Navy Seals in the same Chinook?
All the copters in the US fleet and an idiot had to put all 30 on one...OMG...this person should be court marshaled....What an idiot sending only one copter, there should been 15 arriving with all out firing and shelling killing every single warm body creature in sight. Why does the US military fail to use "overwhelming" fire power at critical time in need????? What an unnecessary loss, if I were the families of these solders I be asking many questions and demanding answers and those responsibe pay a high price.
Why are they still using the vietnam era machine Chinook? Where is the V-22 Osprey?
Why wasn't the big bird escourted by smaller, agile birds. Who's mismanaging this whole mess?
Actual, real, military missions are not, at all, like playing SOCOM on your PS3.
No, really, they are not.
Being a steely-eyed snake-eating bad-ass motherfucker in Gears of War doesn’t actually qualify you to lead or plan real military missions any more than watching an episode of JAG qualifies you to ditch a crippled airliner into the Hudson.
Real military missions are complicated, even the simplest ones have a thousand moving parts and ten thousand moments where things can go pear shaped. The operating environment and the clock often relentlessly dictate what you can and cannot do – no matter what you might otherwise desire. For example, atmospheric density has a direct and significant effect on the performance of helicopters. The thinner the air, the less the bird can lift, the more restricted its ability to maneuver, the more restricted its speed, the fewer options the pilot has. Hot air means thinner air. Higher altitude means thinner air. The difference of ten degrees or a thousand feet can make a huge difference in what the machine can carry. Weather makes a big difference. Rain, clouds, wind affect how the bird performs, especially in the mountains. Dust and grit in the air affects engine performance and the ability of the pilots and gunners to see, so does smoke – and there’s often plenty of each above a battlefield. The terrain of the LZ makes a difference, a helicopter with top mounted rotors can clear obstacles on the ground while making a landing far better than a machine with a tail rotor. The design of the aircraft makes a difference, it’s a hell of a lot easier and faster unloading large heavy items down a tail ramp under fire than manhandling them through a side door – don’t think that matters? Try lifting a full can of .50cal ammo sometime, or better yet jump from about six feet up while carrying a hundred pounds of equipment see how long your knees hold out. Different aircraft handle the dangerous and dynamic conditions of a combat LZ in different manners. All have advantages and disadvantages. Every single military mission is a series of trade-offs. Every single mission requires an ongoing series of decisions and assessments, often with only the bare minimum of information. Every single combat situation is chaotic and fogged and insane. There is only one truth in combat and that is this: no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.
Why are we still using the Vietnam era Chinook? Because it works, most of the time. Because it’s a proven design. Because a replacement costs billions that we don’t have. Why weren’t they riding a fancy new Osprey? Would using a tilt-rotor have made a difference or would the SEALs have died anyway? You ever seen one of those things? They’re not exactly nimble either, especially while landing. Why weren’t they riding in three or four or five smaller, faster, more maneuverable H-60 Blackhawks? Because maybe there weren’t four or five or six available. Because maybe there wasn’t room in the LZ to land four or five or six helicopters at the same time. Because every landing in a hot LZ is a risk, landing four or five or six helicopters multiples the risk by four or five or six or twenty. Why weren’t they escorted by Apaches? And etcetera and etcetera and etcetera. I don’t know, I wasn’t there. Most likely the answer to all those questions is, because the Chinook was what they had at that moment. Because the SEALs and the Marines and the Rangers and the regular Army grunts ride into combat on the Chinook a hundred times a day, and most of the time they make it.
As I said, any combat situation is a series of trade-offs. There are always things you can do better if you only have the time, or the assets, or the intel, or more firepower, or those special one of a kind weapons, or more men, or better communications or air cover or artillery support or some damned thing that you don’t have. But you never do, you never have the time, you never have enough intel or firepower or assets. So you have to make do with what you have. The SEALs were on a support mission, coming to reinforce a Ranger unit pinned down under fire. In such a situation the single most critical factor is time. All those other things, firepower and intel and equipment and SEALs, don’t mean jack shit if you can’t get them into the fight before it’s over. Very likely the answer to the question, “Why were the SEALs all riding on a single Chinook?” is because that’s what was available and ready to go when they needed it.
Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army while
All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack & Russian
Reel'd from the sabre-stroke,
Shatter'd & sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.
Most of the time we win, but sometimes the enemy gets in a lucky shot. The Mujahedeen have been fighting on their own home turf for decades. They are smart and experienced and cunning. Nineteen of them killed nearly three thousand Americans with nothing more than determination and a couple of box cutters. This isn’t a fucking video game, in real war real soldiers die – even SEALs. Flying in a war zone is always risky. You take a chance every single time you get on a helicopter in the battlespace. Do it enough, and sooner or later the odds will catch up with you. We lose men and machines with terrible regularity - that's why they call it war.
It’s bad enough when armchair warriors and video game commandos second guess those who command the SEALs and the Rangers and the rest of our military, but then there’s this horseshit:
i am not buying it, something is fishy about putting the best guys in a large chopper and flying them over a hot zone, doesnt add up......
Why would a Seal Team be sent in to "rescue" Army Rangers? Rangers carry more firepower than Seals since they are light infantry, unlike Seals who are usually quick in quick out. Something about this doesnt add up...
It seems awfully coincidental that it just happened to be the same unit that eliminated bin laden. Something dirty is going on.
Like so many things since 9/11/2001, this story almost rings true, but not quite. The media account is a little too pat and reads like carefully prepared propaganda than honest news reporting...on over 100 sites...exactly the same story with exactly the same writer.
if you notice, in the article, it mentions that seal team 6 members were killed in this crash. makes you wonder if someone up top didnt want them talking about what ACTUALLY happened in/at the mission that killed osama
Something is fishy about putting the best guys in a helicopter and sending them to rescue someone.
We are only taking their word that it was none of the men who were on the OBL raid. They know the names of the individuals who died in the crash are going to be released and so of course they are going to deny that these guys were on the OBL raid. They said that the names of the seal's on the OBL raid would forever remain secret, so they can't admit that they were on the OBL raid.. DUH... By the way, I'm a conservative-tea party member who also thinks that 9/11 ( along with many others things) doesn't add up, but I don't believe in UFO's , or any of that other crap you knuckle dragers like to try and discredit us with. If you even did a miniumal amount of your own research into the FACTS of 9/11, you could come to no other conclusion then to have questions. I've met a hundred guys who were just like u until I told them to go home and watch "Truth Rising"..
This kind of conspiracy crap disgusts me.
These silly paste eating bastards are the same droolers who think George Bush secretly snuck into the World Trade Center towers and planted demo charges without anybody noticing. The idiot parents of these morons were the ones who believed FDR let the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and that NASA faked the moon landings on a sound stage in Burbank. It’s the same mental defect, the same faulty reasoning, that leads these same fools to believe they are somehow experts on engineering and crash analysis and metallurgy and physics and terrorism as they are in special forces doctrine.
This nonsense deserves no respect whatsoever. Period.
If you believe that the President of the United States, the US Military, and the SEALs faked the mission that took down Osama Bin Laden, if you believe that the Commander in Chief then ordered the deaths of an elite special forces team to cover up some vast conspiracy and you believe that the men and women of the US Military or the CIA or any other US organization would actually carry out such orders, then you are a fucking idiot. You deserve no respect whatsoever. Shut up.
Conspiracy nuts are not seeking the so-called “truth.” They are not engaged in critical thought. What these pathetic losers are doing is attempting to use tragic events like this one to get attention for themselves. Nothing more, nothing less. The only difference between these assholes and any other con artist is that they deceive themselves into to believing that they’re a serving some higher, selfless cause – in this case they are attempting to use the death of real warriors to make themselves into the heroes they have neither the courage or the will to be in the first place. They are no better than those greasy sacks of shit who jerk off to Soldier of Fortune and dress up in raggedy-assed camouflage and talk about how they could have been a Marine - but the job of Mall Security was so much more rewarding.
I am sadden to say, it is events like this that I stopped my sons from entering the military. Just didn't want my sons to fall victim to the idiots in Washington and their political war. Lets send the immediate families of these powerful politicians to the front lines of combat and lets watch how stragety changes.
If you actually think that sending politicians’ families into to war would actually change how we wage war – especially for the better – then you are an idiot. John McCain’s father, Admiral John S. McCain was the commander of all forces in the Vietnam theater, it didn’t keep his son from flying combat missions or ending up as one of America’s most famous Prisoners of War. Hell, even Sarah Palin brags how she sent her kid off to fight like she was some kind of Spartan brood mare. And seriously, do you really, I mean really, want US military strategy influenced by politicians to protect their own kids? Really? If so, you’re a fucking idiot and your kids are probably fucking idiots too. By all means keep them home, you’re doing us a favor. Because they are likely just one more set of fucking idiots the Chiefs and Sergeants and First Shirts don’t have to waste time deprogramming.
Why are we releasing this classified information??
Our enemy doesn't need to know that SEALs died in that crash AND they don't need to know that they shot it down.
Announcing to the world that the Taliban had killed 20 SEALs from Team 6 gave the Taliban a feather in their cap and a morale boost.
Why don’t we let the commanders worry about this? If the SEALs aren’t worried about the names being released, then I’m not worried about the names being released. The families of those men were proud of what they did for a living and who they were and how they died, and if their wives and sons and daughters and mothers and fathers want the names known and remembered and honored, then who the hell are you to question it? Go ahead, threaten the families of SEALs, see where it gets you. The insurgents who shot down the helicopter are now dead, hunted down and blown to into smoking hunks of burned meat – I hope they enjoyed their boosted morale while they had the chance.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse & hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.
And finally there’s this:
They should be back in Washington getting rid of those scums there.
Give thanks that we don’t live in such a nation where our military did exactly that. The men who died on that helicopter last Saturday were US Navy SEALs, the very best of the very best. They died doing what they believed in. They died coming to the rescue of their fellow Soldiers. They died doing their duty, nothing more, nothing less. They died not as heroes, though they are certainly that, but as American fighting men who were doing the job they were sworn to do.
To suggest that they would, or should, turn on the duly elected government of the United States, to suggest that they would forswear their oath and their duty, is the single most disgusting insult that could possibly be levied against their names.
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder'd.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!
*For those who don't recognize it, the poem woven throughout this post is Alfred Lord Tennyson's immortal "Charge of the Light Brigade.”